Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Always leave 'em laughing

BTG knows how to wrap a season
by Christopher Key

Let’s cut to the chase.  The Drowsy Chaperone at the Bellingham Theatre Guild is a dead-solid lock to sell out.  So make your reservations now.  I’ll wait…

You know that any show directed by Teri Grimes is going to be a high-energy, manically-paced, uproariously funny production.  She has outdone herself with this one and the cast and crew totally have her back.  Not to mention her capable AD, Alan Peet.

The Drowsy Chaperone is billed as “…a musical within a comedy” and it could easily be vice-versa.  The show-within-a-show concept is at least as old as Shakespeare and it still works like vodka and tonic.  The book was written by Bob Martin and Don McKellar with music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison.  They poke some not-so-gentle fun at the peculiar phenomenon known as American Musical Theatre.  There’s a lot of material to work with and they take it into geosynchronous orbit.

Photo credit- Jay Solomon

Sean Walbeck is simply brilliant as The Man in the Chair, the narrator who takes us on a trip down memory lame with the help of an antique device known as a phonograph.  The character, as Grimes puts it, is very in touch with his feminine side and Walbeck conveys that without turning the role into a gay caricature.  His interactions with the audience are inspired.

Photo credit - Jay Solomon

Bonnie Hollingsworth and Kathy Peacock Duncan share the title role.  The reason the chaperone is drowsy is because she has a nip or two from her flask anytime she feels stressed.  Hey, it’s always five o’clock somewhere.  I saw Hollingsworth at tonight’s preview and she’s a hoot.  I also know Duncan’s abilities and can guarantee she’ll be just as boozily brassy.

Photo credit - Jay Solomon

Theoretically, the plot revolves around the wedding of Broadway star Janet Vander Graaf and matinee idol Robert Martin.  Janet, played by April Hoag, is giving up her career for wedded bliss and she’s having second (and third) thoughts.  Hoag is absolutely delightful as she defines the song “Show Off.”  Her self-involved intended is played by Will Dubiel with a fake naïveté that is captivating.

Emily Lester delivers a tour-de-force performance as the aspiring starlet Kitty and proves beyond a doubt that nature does not always abhor a vacuum.  She is paired with David Cohn as the show’s producer, Feldzeig (think Ziegfeld) and he’s as good an actor as he is a photographer.

No musical parody would be complete without a Latin Lover and TJ Anderson captures the egotistical former silent film star with a hokey accent that is perfectimundo.  Paul Henderson II is always the best man in any show and his tap routine with Dubiel is a show-stopper.

Angela Mills-Watson and her hubby Brian Watson are the local version of the legendary stage duo Stiller and Meara.  They play Mrs. Tottendale and her Underling.  If their marriage survives all those spit-takes, it will probably be the basis for another musical.

Since the best man has forgotten to procure a minister for the weddings, a deus ex machina appears in the person of the Aviatrix.  Robin Mae Becar doesn’t get much stage time, but makes the most of it with a torchy rendition of “I Do, I Do in the Sky.”

Then, there are a pair of gangsters posing as pastry chefs just to complicate the plot.  They are as inept at gangstering as they are at pastry-cheffing.  John Gonzales and James Larrison are a truly Toledo Surprise.

The score is a 1920s jazz-age delight.  Steve Barnes, whose praises probably don’t need to be sung again, serves as Musical Director and the band is peerless.  BTG board president Andy Backus takes credit for another ingenious set.  Ryan Goelzenleuchter and Dee Dee O’Connor deliver a perfect lighting design.

Costumer Genny Cohn needs no introduction to local audiences and her legend only grows.  The sound design in this show is very complex thanks to The Man in the Chair using a phonograph to present the musical.  Anna Crowley and Steve Barnes pull it off with aplomb and Crowley doubles as sound op.  Choreographer Michelle Vanleeuwen-Ahrens deserves a standing O.

Still haven’t gotten your tix?  Call the BTG box office Tuesday – Saturday from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. at (360) 733-1811.  The Drowsy Chaperone plays June 12 – 28 at the BTG Playhouse, 1600 H Street.  The show runs a little over an hour-and-a-half and there is no intermission.  You will be reminded about this a lot because we don’t any unfortunate accidents caused by uncontrollable laughter.

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